Fairfax County’s water wars could end with a marriage between the two parties most embroiled in conflict, as Fairfax Water on Tuesday offered to work out a mutually agreeable merger with Falls Church’s system.
The overture comes weeks after Falls Church publicly announced its interest in exploring all options, including a sale or merger, of the water utility it has operated since the 1930s.
In a six-page letter to Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields, Fairfax Water’s general manager, Charles M. Murray, said the utility was interested in joining the two systems and invited both utilities to explore the matter further.
“A system merger is the best alternative by far,” Murray wrote. “The systems would combine their respective assets for the greater good of the union. The City would not be giving away its water system to us, any more than we would be giving our water system away to you. The synergies and benefits of the union would be shared equally by all customers. Indeed, no other other public or private utility is in a position to provide this kind of value to all of the customers of the City’s water system.”
In a unanimous decision, the Falls Church City Council on Feb. 13 agreed to issue a Request for Expressions of Interest to see whether an investor-owned or public utility would be interested in buying a system that generates about $20 million a year and serves 34,500 accounts. About 90 percent of those customers reside in Fairfax County, and any purchaser would have to take into account the long-running conflict over water service that has pitted the city against its larger neighbor because of them.
That conflict led to a decision by Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors late last year to assume authority for water rates of all county residents, including those who receive their water from the city of Falls Church or other municipal systems. In amending its water ordinance, the county also claimed the right to establish exclusive service areas for Fairfax Water, the county-controlled utility that supplies most water in the county.